SMC Heads-up: the coming week in science (to Jan 29)

Dear science reporters,

Upcoming events, new research and SMC backgrounders and a taste of what might be on the news agenda science-wise next week. Contact us at the SMC for more information.

Peter Griffin
Science Media Centre

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The lingering impacts of the A bomb
Research from Massey University’s Professor Al Rowland is in the spotlight again as commonwealth veterans of nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific and Australia have their demands for compensation heard in a British court this week.Professor Rowland’s research into identifying gene damage in humans is outlined here. The cytogenetic analysis Rowland presented to the New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association is available here. It forms the basis of scientific claims that the veterans have suffered longterm health problems as a result of witnessing the nuclear tests in the 1950s.

In that study Roland concluded: “We submit the view that the probable cause of the veterans’ elevated translocation frequencies is radiation exposure. This view is supported by the

observation of a comparatively high dicentric chromosome score in the veterans, which is characteristic of radiation exposure.”

The research is likely to come under heavy scrutiny in court as the case progresses. Some more medical research reports are published on the website of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association

Issues on the science radar: Wind turbines and the environmental impact, ERMA resists pressure to shutter GM trials, methane emission research, Obama’s planned resurrection of science,

Antarctic warming pinpointed in Nature
Victoria University’s Professor of Climate Change, Martin Manning, provides commentary on the SMC website on new research published in Nature that suggests Antarctica is warming and that it is “almost certain” that human activity is partially responsible.

Contact the SMC to obtain the research.

Language links Pacific populations to Taiwan
New Zealand scientists have used language to plot the origins of most populations in the islands of South East Asia and the Pacific back to Taiwan around 5200 years ago.

A team at the University of Auckland used computer analysis to compare the traits of 400 Austonesian languages, tracing how they evolved. The relationships between the languages give scientists a detailed history of settlement in the Pacific. The research is published in the journal Science

Experts from the Allan Wilson Centre comment on the research on the SMC website.

Deadly bacteria tied to land management
Australian scientists have found that the bacteria responsible for the deaths of two people in Australia’s Northern Territory may be associated with land management changes such as livestock husbandry or residential gardening.

The Australian Science Media Centre this week held a briefing on the issue which is available for playback on the AusSMC website.

Undiagnosed diabetes common in Maori
A study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today shows that one in five Maori with diabetes or pre-diabetes are undiagnosed.

Researchers invited Maori aged 28 or over to have an oral glucose tolerance test. Results showed that undiagnosed diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance and impaired fasting glucose remain common in Maori, particularly in men, in the very obese and in those with greater socioeconomic disadvantage.

Maori dietitian Eurera Maxted comments on the research on the SMC website.

Background briefings

This year the SMC will be running breaking news briefings and background briefings on science-related issues. This will typically involve journalists having the opportunity to dial into a phone and internet conference to listen to scientists speak as a web presentation is given simultaneously.

This system has been very successful for our friends at the AusSMC in Adelaide, allowing the team there to gather scientists and journalists from across Australia.

We plan to run occasional physical briefings as well when logistics and interest from the media make it appropriate.

We will be in touch with briefing topics soon, but please let us know if there are briefings you would like to see us run. Send any suggestions to

New from the SMC
Best of the SMC blogs: Obama’s plan to restore science to its “rightful place”, maternal diets and fetal health.
Domestic violence and facial injuries: Women suffering abuse from a partner tend to have patterns of injuries that are different from those seen in victims of other types of assault.

A study in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery suggests that domestic violence results in a higher incidence of eye and cheekbone fractures, and doubles the likelihood of brain injury. Details here.

Audio: Peter Griffin, manager of the SMC looks at the big scientific discoveries of 2008 on Radio New Zealand. Click here.

Research highlights
New Zealand never sank completely : The discovery of the fossil of a lizard-like New Zealand reptile dating back 18 million years has sparked renewed debate over whether the continent was fully submerged some 25 million years ago.

The endangered New Zealand tuatara (Sphenodon punctatum) is a lizard-like reptile that is the only survivor of a group that was globally widespread at the time of the dinosaurs. The tuatara lives on 35 scattered islands around the New Zealand coast. Populations on the mainland became extinct after the arrival of humans and their associated animals about 750 years ago. Details here.

Tasty frogs on the way out: Frogs The global trade in frog legs for human consumption is threatening their extinction, according to a new study by an international team including University of Adelaide researchers.

The researchers say the global pattern of harvesting and decline of wild populations of frogs appears to be following the same path set by overexploitation of the seas and subsequent “chain reaction” of fisheries collapses around the world. Details here.

Lack of vitamin D bad for the brain: Researchers from the Peninsula Medical School, the University of Cambridge and the University of Michigan, have for the first time identified a relationship between Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”, and cognitive impairment in a large-scale study of older people.

The importance of these findings lies in the connection between cognitive function and dementia: people who have impaired cognitive function are more likely to develop dementia. Details here.

Next week’s sci-tech events

New Zealand/Australia Sensory Network Symposium: Auckland, Jan 27 -28. A 2-day sensory symposium featuring experts and research on the science of the senses. Details here.

Virtual worlds and science teaching: International (online) Jan 30. A virtual conference looking at the possibilities of using virtual worlds to learn about and teach science.  The conference will be taking place entirely in Second Life and will feature a keynote and panel discussion as well as small breakout sessions, field trips and an opportunity participate in “Science Friday”, NPR’s live broadcast from Second Life. Details here.

NZNOG Conference 2009: Auckland, Jan 28 – 30. NZNOG is the New Zealand Network Operators Group – an online community of network operators, predominantly in the Internet and Online Services area. Our annual conference provides both an opportunity to exchange technical information, and a high-value opportunity for NZ’s networking staff to ‘network’ amongst themselves. Details here.